Anatomy Memorial Poems

David Sadegh

New Lenses

When did I forget you’re a human being?

Atlases and charts confirm what I’m seeing,

A collection of strings and levers, tubes and wires.

All motionless now, but once you were breathing.

 

How many thousands of words were pictured on your skin?

Leather-bound books destined for the biohazard bin,

Leaving only your face, veiled by a towel so white,

Like the coats we sometimes shroud ourselves in.

 

Without that fleshy lens around, you blurred out from my vision,

Blunt dissecting anterior and posterior divisions.

But to keep sight of your life, I will

Bring new lenses to fill those curious excisions.

 

For each window we’d cut, I’d fit a lens to the frame.

I saw memories in your muscles, veracity in your veins.

In the frame of your jejunum, I saw each meal you enjoyed pass.

Inside your vocal folds, every song you ever sang.

 

At the frame of your eye, the window sill,

There’s a gutter that drains when emotions fill

The fury of nerves tunneling out through cranial fossa,

Till I remember your duct no longer wells up, your tears no longer spill.

 

The most telling frame of all,

Is the stainless steel altar on which you’re sprawled.

You’ve generously given what many cling to in strife,

To teach us that beyond our mortality, there’s much more to life.


I Still See You

Months have passed since we gathered together

But the wisdom you shared, I continue to treasure

I still see you

No other patient has your face

But in everyone, I see your grace

I still see you

Where pain and vulnerability

Meet unconquerable dignity

I still see you

When a glaring wound leaves me lost and perplexed

You give familiar bearings, show me the path to expect

I still see you

One patient’s infection left a gash in his neck

I glimpsed you there, beneath the flesh

I still see you

Another patient winced and sighed when his kidneys were failing

I felt the weight of your own in my hands and understood what was ailing

I still see you

Changing a bandage for a patient’s punctured chest,

I wondered where to start

Till I remembered you already showed us

the path to your heart

I still see you

In your heart’s chambers, I saw enduring marks of great feats,

That I now appreciate in every heart that beats

I still see you

I read in a holy book, a spirit may rise above

When you give to others from that which you love

I still see you

Though our time together has now long passed

The gifts you’ve given will surely last

I will always see you


Selected Haiku

Red and green paint leaks

Out of the Earth at the spot

Where the sun rises

 

Buried under foot

This site was once River Road

Streets covered in snow

 

A power outage;

How quickly the moths scatter

Without any light

 

Alone in the dark

I see your curved sides blushing

Flickering candle

 

Two blood oranges

Swelling till they burst open

Sweet nectar for flies

 

Jittery squirrel!

Who made you tree inspector?

Testing every branch

 

Look how you climb on

Over mountains and mountains!

Ant on the carpet

 

Medical students

Working shoulder to shoulder

Cubicles apart

 

The monsoon above

Distracts me from my studies:

Sound of ceiling vent

 

Decrepit lantern

Somehow you still glow each night

Without any oil

 

Stars distance themselves

But some are held together

By Orion’s belt

 

It is late tonight

Please stop biting at my ears

Cold wind in C Lot

 

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My First Patient 2

Johnathan Yao

Coming into medical school, I had found stories and sentiments to be a unifying theme connecting the inter threads of humanity. In medicine, I could find these stories, the feelings of loss and fear, and also those of hope and love. In the face of illness, suffering, and death, we often see the unsullied sides of the human condition, the rawer sides of our nature hidden behind the decorum of everyday living, behind the curations of professional demands.

Most of medical school before starting clinical rotations third-year is spent in the classroom, absent from patients. As such, I made it a priority to volunteer at our school’s free clinic, where student-doctors could provide pro bono healthcare to the uninsured population.

When I met my first patient volunteering, I found these stories again, the stories that I’ve been seeking but have been largely absent in my physiology and anatomy text books.

Our patient was a 63-year old immigrant who could not speak a word of English. Everything he said was through a translator. And even so, his sentiments of seeking a better life in this country, his humble attitude towards his job as a factory laborer – these things needed no further interpretation. I smiled. What a privilege it was to meet this man in person, whose story I might have only previously gained access to through a features piece. Being in the same room with this patient face-to-face felt more tangible, more grounded than anything I could read in print, in a newspaper.

Our patient came in with hip pain and acid reflux; conditions that were affecting his ability to walk to work and perform his day job. In entering this vocation, medicine has given me the opportunity to not only meet an individual I could not have otherwise met in my personal life, but to now play a role in his existence – to improve his health and advance quality of life, to help this man make a living and sustain his professional identity. He needed to return to work to support himself and his family.

The fourth year medical student asked me to take out my stethoscope and listen to the patient’s chest, a routine portion of the physical examination. Just earlier in the week, I had been practicing the ins and outs of the cardiovascular exam on my classmates. It took a good number of reiterations to know exactly where to place the stethoscope and to know what we were supposed to be listening to.

I approached our patient and carefully listened to his heart. I closed my eyes. The sound slowly came before me – lub dub; lub dub; lub dub. The beating was rhythmic, soothing, and sounded exactly as my classmates’ heart had, exactly as my heart would.

For the longest time, the science that I had been learning in medical school had seemed like an intellectual buffet. The knowledge was tantalizing, and I was rapidly gaining access to vast realms of information that could logically describe the intricate processes keeping us alive. But in the classroom and in the textbook, these ideas were merely notions, abstract concepts that fit together nicely as an engineering equation does, but untested in the realities of every day living. The heart could be explained as a car engine could through series of graphs, but surely our hearts hold greater meaning than a collection of automobile parts.

Hearing this man’s heart, and understanding now through our anatomy and physiology classes what each lub meant, what each dub meant, and how his heart was autonomously pumping 80 times a minutes to course this liquid we call blood to sustain human life was profound. I had not just peered into the man’s soul, but his very body itself.

I had come to grasp the significance of something akin to a commonality through the humanities, the idea that there are universal truths and moral principles that extend beyond our differences, not bound to a tongue, a heritage, or a sense of place. But now, I saw how that commonality need not necessarily extend to the metaphysical. As I listened to my patient’s heart, it was biology, rooted in the immutable laws of chemistry and physics that so cleanly entwined us together as a species. For millennia, the human heart had pumped in this beat-like pattern, and for the next millennia, our human heart will continue beating all the same.

Although I never understood a single word our patient said to me, I felt such a strong sense of connection to him. This was the unbridled power of the doctor-patient relationship.

Now as I meet someone new, I’ll think about their heart, how it’s touched and how it can be moved – what elevates it to laughter and to tears, but also its biomechanics – how it contracts and how it pumps.

Without a thorough understanding of how the heart works, I, as a physician, will not able to help my patients enjoy life’s higher joys. But without eliciting what gives my patients joy, I, as a fellow human, would miss what makes their heart beat at all.

 

 

 

Self-Compassion

Jenna Nickas

After what may have been one too many Snapchats of my elaborate bubble baths, or one too many recommendations for essential oil diffusers on Amazon, my friend recently joked that I am the “Queen of Self-Care”.

While I was flattered to be referred to as the Queen of anything at all, my approach to taking care of myself is instead one of compassion. As future doctors, we are all inherently compassionate people. We demonstrate compassion for our friends, family, partners, and patients every day without hesitation. However, I can’t help but notice that many incredibly compassionate people often save very little compassion for themselves.

Medical students tend to be especially hard on themselves, whether we’re comparing our unique successes to the successes of others or feeling guilty for spending time doing anything that isn’t studying.

Whether you find yourself at the beginning of the end of your journey with Match Day on Friday, or still at the beginning of the beginning as it is for any M1’s like myself who are drowning somewhere in the middle of the Metabolic Map, I challenge you to try a little self-compassion. Take a step back. Acknowledge how far you have come on the path that brought you here. Be proud. Give yourself credit and understand that you don’t have to apologize to anyone for it.

I’m not trying to build up your ego and I’m not saying that you need to feel all warm and fuzzy right now. I am just reminding you that it is permissible to save some of that amazing compassion you were born with and gift it right back to yourself. I am reminding you that absolute perfection will never be attainable. After all, the word utopia in Greek was never meant to be a “perfect” place, but rather “not” a place at all.

You don’t need to listen to any of my recommendations for the best collection of Fitzgerald short stories or the Persian chamomile tea that my roommate recently taught me to make (but honestly, you should try it—there is saffron involved), I just ask you to take a few moments while we are still in medical school, not fully responsible for anyone else’s life quite yet, to not be afraid to be kind to yourself. Or in the eternally wise words of Tom Haverford, “Treat Yo’ Self”.

 

First Patient Death

Johnathan Yao

As part of my medical school’s inter-professional learning, I shadowed a hospital chaplain this afternoon. While physicians principally attend to the physical healing of patients, chaplains also fulfill an important role in healthcare– meeting the spiritual needs of patients. When faced with disease, patients oftentimes grapple with deeper questions about their illness.

Immediately upon arriving at the hospital, there was a code blue. A patient had arrived to the emergency a few days prior with a pulmonary condition. And now she was in cardiac arrest. From my first semester of medical school, I could ascertain that due to the weakness in her lungs, she wasn’t getting enough oxygen and as such, her heart, a muscle which requires a large sum of oxygen to function, had ceased to continue working.

As I entered the emergency room, the medical team was busy at work performing CPR. They furiously pumped the patient’s chest, ran the defibrillator, and repeated the process. The team diligently did this over and over again, but the patient’s vitals showed no change. There was no heart rate.

Finally, the family indicated for the medical team to stop CPR. The team paused. And when the attending physician had recollected himself, he officially pronounced the patient dead.

The daughter-in-law burst out in tears, collapsing on her deceased loved-one’s body. “You can’t leave me. You can’t leave me. You can’t go.” That anguished wail – it’s unscripted, unrehearsed. Nothing portrayed in the movies can prepare you to receive that intensity of pure uninhibited display of emotion. The rest of the family ranged in their responses, some shocked, others strained in stoicism.

Just moments ago, the patient was alive and in an instant she died – never again would she wake up from that restful spell death had cast on her. She would never again take a breath, her heart would never again pump a beat. But something greater happened today than just the physiological failings of her internal organs. It was something that science couldn’t explain, something that even words can fail to describe. It was the heaviness of the scene, the feeling that something truly remarkable had occurred. I nodded to the chaplain.

Something had stirred in my soul. I felt death today. It was in the same room with me. And yet, I had escaped it.

Today is my 25th birthday. Upon leaving the hospital, I felt the sun’s rays on my face. I saw messages and missed calls from friends wishing me happy birthday. I went back home and enjoyed dinner with my parents. I caught up with my best friends on the phone the rest of the evening. Even with the specter of death hanging over my head, I felt a stronger force of life pulsing through my body. Friendship, family, love. That’s what is so important to me. That’s why I want to live. That’s why medicine matters to the patients whom I’ll one day be treating.

Even in my day of celebration, I feel sorry for the family I met at the hospital. While I went home and hugged my family a little bit harder, they had to do the same, in the absence of someone they loved. I’m grateful for them for allowing me into their lives at such a pivotal juncture in their lives as individuals as and a family. It was a gift to witness what I saw today.

Death comes only once to an individual, a few times for a family. But it’s something that physicians consistently see as part of their profession. This was only the first time I witnessed death, but I will surely meet it again.

My parents noted the irony of me observing death on a day celebrating my birth. But it was only through the juxtaposition of one state to another that I could appreciate this birthday as I did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two

Max Herman 

This is a two-piece poem of the same situation from the viewpoint of a patient and his doctor.

There’s not a single feature of this wall I haven’t noticed:
the tattered, ashen square that frames a printout of a lotus,
the crack that creeps across the beige that seems to have a purpose,
finding respite in the corner, only to resurface.

Am I that tattered frame that’s slightly slanted to the right,
slowly losing color as the product of some fight?
I wonder how my pallor seems to those naive of my disease:
“There goes that walking skeleton, with thinning hair and shaking knees.”

But maybe this is not the case, and I’m the crack instead:
turning, twisting – pausing –yet still aiming straight ahead.
To those who watch with bated breath, I may seem weak and faded, yes,
but still I’m here, and still I push until I stop to lay and rest.

At first I never saw this wall, blinded by my hopelessness.
How could they expect a 23-year-old to cope with this?
I found it best to wear a mask that painted me an optimist,
stiffening my spine to fight the fact I felt the opposite.
At night I tucked my mask away and shed the plastic masquerade,
thinking of the relatives who shared my fate and passed away.
And soon the shroud could not withstand and quickly fell apart,
whittled by the worries of a lonely, frightened heart.

It’s said if you sink low enough, you’ll find an inner strength,
but what I found was not within but rather at arm’s length.
Once I learned to turn my gaze upon the face opposing me,
I found a source of strength and love, supporting me emotionally.
On days of pain, when I’m too weak to stand up on my own,
she tightly grabs my hand and says, “my love, you’re not alone.”
Her wary way of shyly smiling binds me to the ground,
it holds my weight despite the force that tries to blow me down.

There’s not a single feature of her face I do not know:
the rosy lips that sit beneath her tiny, button nose,
the eyes that change their bluish hue depending on her mood,
inviting me to open up and feel her warmth imbued.

 


 

There is a man who has a family, a house he calls a home,
a quaintly-colored castle with a leather, cushioned throne.
A man who saves the messages from others on his phone,
to smile at the ones he later visits on his own.

A scribble-ridden calendar, a life reduced to dates,
a page too marked with red and blue to warrant any space.
A man who understands that for every given case,
a piece of mind is set aside, solidified in place.

A gait without distraction, a walk that doesn’t sway,
a pace that never stops to pause or find a slight delay.
A man who stands to give support like lacquered, hardened clay,
molded to each patient, changing shape whichever way.

A book that’s filled with chicken scrawl, a recipe of thoughts,
analysis of findings in a well-constructed plot.
A man who pours his mind into a bounded, paper lot,
to clear the tangled web disease can weave and leave to rot.

A heart with many cabinets, a vessel full of drawers,
Layered with resolve, with love and hope laid at the core.
A man who fuels his fire from the ones who fight their war,
and uses it to give them every chance for something more.

A Near Death Reminder

Johnathan Yao

Two days ago, I had just taken my final anatomy exam and finished a long two-month ordeal dissecting through and memorizing every component of the human body. At the beginning of the course, I had been excited, energized, honored to commence such a foundational experience in medical training. By the end, I was exhausted, wanting nothing more than just to sleep.

The very next day, we began physiology, with two weeks of cardiology separating us and the winter holidays. I woke up Saturday morning as I almost normally did, preparing myself for a full-day at the library studying. I’d watch the lecture, review the ebook, take notes, make flashcards, and memorize flashcards, an ordeal I had once taken pride in formulating the habit of doing. Now it just felt routine. In the afternoon, I packed up my books and prepared my drive to New Brunswick to attend our winter formal.

Just a few minutes into my drive, I made a right turn and my car suddenly lost control. It had been snowing the entire day. I came to realize that this road was covered in ice. My car hit one curb, ricocheted and went over another curb. I stared down my line of sight and saw before me trees within a ditch. I braced for the worst, but before I knew it, my car stopped its trajectory down towards certain damage. I had run through a bush and its branches had caught my right wheels, possibly damaging my vehicle but also possibly saving my life.

As I sat in my car, bewildered at what has just happened, a man with a snow shovel began walking towards me. He lived down the hill and had seen my accident. When I looked down the hill, where my car would have been had I not hit this bush, I saw his young children and wife playing in the snow. Would I have hit them? Before my conscience could more seriously wrestle with this tormenting thought, the man asked me if I was okay and began shoveling the snow beneath my tires. We worked together to clear as many branches as we could, but alas the car was still stuck. I called 911 and waited for the police to come.

While we waited for the police to come, the man never stopped trying to clear the branches stuck between my tires. Despite the wind and the cold, despite the time he could be spent playing with his children and wife during the first snow of the year, here was this human being, who had interrupted everything to jump into foray of danger to help a mere stranger get his car out of the snow. For him, the task of helping me was the most pressing thing on his mind. In my moments of fear, his presence had helped me feel calm, helped me feel safe. What motivated such compassion?

The police came, and the toll-truck would eventually come too. They asked the man to leave because he wasn’t part of the accident. I never got his name. But before he walked away, I looked at him one more time. Our eyes made contact, and in that moment I felt a feeling that had escaped me throughout my preclinical medical training thus far. Here was a fellow human being, with a kindness that I was the direct beneficiary of, a goodness that I could only conceptualize. I was happy to be alive, grateful to have shared this space with someone who had taught me more about strength and moral resolve than any molecular pathway, a greater understanding of what’s meaningful than any arterial landmark. I looked up again and he was gone. My car would be towed, my insurance rates would surely see a spike, and I would miss my winter formal. And yet, the snow that had seemed so frigid just moments ago, now suddenly seemed light and blissful, playing in the joyful wind.

Untitled

Kristina Kelvy

It’s all for her, isn’t it? Everything’s changed now and it has to be all for her. I was doing what I had to do, working all those hours to make the extra we’re going to need now. I was putting her first this entire time. Even through the pain, even through the days I could barely walk. It’s just a pulled muscle. A pulled muscle that’s kept me from standing next to my old lady and holding my baby girl the second she was born.

Doc said it’s not right. It’s not right that I’m in so much pain and I’m having trouble standing and walking. I can’t walk when I wake up most days. It’s takes me forever to get past the pain in my back. But I did what I had to do. I pushed it down, sucked it up and went to work. I have a kid. At 49. A little girl. And now that I see her, she’s gorgeous. I already loved her. I already pushed it all down in my head to get the extra money for her. But now she’s here and I can’t take it. She’s beautiful and I can barely hold her.

My old lady says I should go back to the doctor. Says I should just give in and go back and start fresh with someone new. But I’m stronger than this. I finished that State program. Out of those like 10% who make it, I did. I slipped once in 5 years and took care of it. I stood by this new thing, I tried. Not like there’s a lot of options for a street kid from Trenton. But I’m done with crack, I’ve got things going now. I’m a dad. At 49. I never thought it would happen. Too messed up and too stuck on those streets. But my lady, my baby girl, they’re everything now. Everything.

I’m getting them home. I’m getting them settled and set. And then I’m going back to the doc.